Why is Queensland so corrupt?

My AFR oped today is on the economics of corruption. Full text over the fold.

Cultures of Corruption, Australian Financial Review, 11 August 2009

Leisha Harvey was jailed for a year for using her official credit card for personal expenses, including taking her husband to enjoy the Grand Prix. Brian Austin was imprisoned for 15 months for misappropriation. Merri Rose spent 18 months behind bars for attempting to blackmail the Premier. Gordon Nuttall was jailed for seven years for corruptly accepting $360,000 from two businessmen.

What do all these cases have in common? They all involve Queensland politicians. Indeed, of the 16 state politicians who have been convicted of crimes in the past 20 years, 8 were from Queensland. According to Tony Fitzgerald, whose 1987-89 inquiry was meant to have ended official corruption in Queensland: “Access can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed and retired politicians exploit their political connections to obtain success fees for deals between business and government.”

Of course, other states have had political corruption scandals of their own. New South Wales corrective services minister Rex Jackson’s cash-for-early-release scheme was nothing if not audacious. And Western Australia deserves a special mention for having had a Liberal Party premier and a Labor Party premier jailed in the 1990s. But for convictions, Queensland tops them both.

True, just 8 convicted politicians is a crude basis on which to attach the tag ‘most corrupt state’. Another approach is search the national media, and estimate what share of the approximately 100,000 state political stories published in the last 14 years mention corruption. On this metric, Western Australia and Queensland are the most corrupt states (with 10% and 8% respectively of political news items mentioning corruption), while the ACT and NT rank as the least corrupt (with 6% of political news items mentioning corruption).

What explains why some states are more corrupt than others? Since Gary Becker’s seminal work in 1968, most economists have regarded crime as a function of the expected benefits and the expected costs. When the potential gains from corruption are high, we should expect to see more of it. Conversely, when the penalties are large, or detection is likely, we should expect to see less corruption.

This suggests that states with more dispersed populations might experience more corruption, since a more dispersed population means fewer people in the capital city to keep an eye on the politicians. As one of the least urban states in Australia, it may have been harder for Queenslanders to prevent their MPs from misbehaving. Another factor could be the level of development. In the United States, Mississippi and Louisiana are among the states with the highest proportion of public officials convicted of corruption, while New Hampshire and Oregon are among the least corrupt. The fact that Queensland incomes have historically been below the national average may be relevant here.

But economists are also beginning to recognise the importance of a ‘culture of corruption’. When everyone around is thumbing their nose at the law, an otherwise scrupulous politician may be more tempted to do likewise. Or as Governor Willie Stark says in All the Kings’ Men, “dirt’s a funny thing. Some of it rubs off on everybody.”

Intriguing evidence on cultures of corruption comes from a study by Ray Fisman (Columbia University) and Ted Miguel (University of California, Berkeley), who observe that diplomats from countries with high corruption ratings (such as Egypt and Chad) are more likely to exploit their diplomatic immunity to accumulate unpaid parking tickets in New York City. Holding constant a country’s level of development, more corruption back home means more unpaid parking tickets in Manhattan.

Partly because of these cultural norms, fighting corruption is no quick process. But the most promising solution is to raise the chance of detection. In the words of former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “sunshine is the best disinfectant”.

In Australia, independent corruption-monitoring bodies have doubtless helped. But perhaps just as important is the role of an active and independent media. Just as the Crédit Mobilier and Teapot Dome scandals were both brought to light by the US media, so too the Courier Mail and Four Corners helped expose Queensland police corruption in the 1980s.

In the Internet age, the media should also press for more data to be available online. Political donations could be posted quarterly rather than annually. Lobbyists ought to report on their fees (as occurs in the US), not merely their client list. And political parties’ ‘business liaison’ programs should be fully reported. If something dodgy is going on, posting the jigsaw online raises the odds of someone piecing it together. Perhaps the “Sunshine State” could lead the way?

Andrew Leigh is an economist in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University.

The data on politicians who have been convicted of crimes was based on a Wikipedia list of Australian politicians convicted of crimes. It was incomplete, so my research assistant, Susanne Schmidt, spent a day searching media databases and the web to update it. We think we’ve found all the convictions in the past 20 years, but naturally if you know of more, please update Wikipedia.

For anyone who’s interested, details of the citations exercise are below.

Results of citation analysis

 

State search terms

Stories about politics & corruption

(politic* AND corrup*)

Stories about politics (politic*)

Share corruption stories

New South Walesclip_image002clip_image002[1]clip_image002[2]clip_image004clip_image006clip_image006[1]clip_image006[2]clip_image007clip_image007[1]clip_image007[2]clip_image007[3]clip_image006[3]clip_image006[4]clip_image006[5]clip_image006[6]clip_image006[7]clip_image006[8]clip_image006[9]clip_image006[10]

‘new south wales’ OR nsw

1,841

23,882

7.709%

Victoria

victoria OR vic

778

11,006

7.069%

Queensland

queensland OR qld

1,642

20,380

8.057%

South Australia

‘south australia’ OR sa

701

8,833

7.936%

Western Australia

‘western australia’ OR wa

1,092

10,630

10.273%

Tasmaniaclip_image007[4]clip_image007[5]clip_image007[6]clip_image007[7]clip_image006[11]clip_image006[12]clip_image006[13]clip_image006[14]

tasmania OR tas

419

5,325

7.869%

Northern Territory

‘northern territory’ OR nt

270

4,419

6.110%

Australian Capital Territoryclip_image007[8]clip_image007[9]clip_image007[10]clip_image007[11]

‘australian capital territory’ OR canberra

937

16,238

5.770%

clip_image002[3]clip_image002[4]clip_image002[5]clip_image006[15]clip_image006[16]clip_image006[17]clip_image006[18]clip_image006[19]clip_image006[20]clip_image006[21]Total

7,680

100,713

7.626%

Note: The citations analysis was based on a Factiva search of the Australian and the Australian Financial Review over the period 1996-2009 (the full availability in the database). In about 2004, the AFR’s Factiva coverage switched from full text to summaries.

All other facts and pieces of research are hyperlinked in the article.

3 thoughts on “Why is Queensland so corrupt?”

  1. The questions is not “Why is Queensland so corrupt?” but “Is Queensland so corrupt?”. That’s a question I’d like to know the answer to. The more scrutiny of the workings of government the better but this article does not add anything to the debate.

    “What do all these cases have in common? They all involve Queensland politicians. Indeed, of the 16 state politicians who have been convicted of crimes in the past 20 years, 8 were from Queensland. ”

    1. Firstly, Wikipedia I mean really.

    I wonder if the list is exhaustive and that Queensland may have been better covered than other areas.

    “It was incomplete, so my research assistant, Susanne Schmidt, spent a day searching media databases and the web to update it.”

    I agree the Wikipedia list is probably incomplete but your research only added only 1 person to the list. An incomplete list +1 is still incomplete?

    2. Let’s look at the 8 convictions in Queensland

    4 were from 1990 and were National party related. I don’t think many people would argue there wasn’t a climate of corruption in the pre-Fitzgerald era – you used 2 of these as examples in your introductory paragraph. Why stop at 1990- why not 1890?

    2 were child sex offenses- both relating to offenses which were conducted before the person was in parliament and are these sort of offenses indicative of corruption?

    1 Merri Rose- there is only one Merri Rose and god alone knows what this offense was about but fair enough to call it corruption though she was not a parliamentarian at the time and was reported to the Police by the Premier.

    1 Gordan Nuttal – YES! finally

    So this “metric” boils down to 1 genuine, old school political corruption conviction since 1990?

    “True, just 8 convicted politicians is a crude basis on which to attach the tag ‘most corrupt state’. Another approach is search the national media, and estimate what share of the approximately 100,000 state political stories published in the last 14 years mention corruption. On this metric, Western Australia and Queensland are the most corrupt states (with 10% and 8% respectively of political news items mentioning corruption), while the ACT and NT rank as the least corrupt (with 6% of political news items mentioning corruption).”

    1. lets look at the data which wasn’t supplied in the AFR article
    share of the state political stories published in the last 14 years which mention corruption
    nsw 7.71, victoria 7.1, SA 7.96, tas 7.87 — not very different from qld’s 8.057%, Western Australia 10.27

    I would argue that  “On this metric, Western Australia and Queensland are the most corrupt states” is misleading. I would suggest a more parsimonious grouping would be that WA is the most corrupt state and NSW, VIC, SA, TAS and QLD have a similar level of corruption by this metric. Secondly,  isn’t it a worry that your data has twice as many political stories about QLD than VIC? Could this indicate a bias in the data?

    “In Australia, independent corruption-monitoring bodies have doubtless helped. But perhaps just as important is the role of an active and independent media. … the Courier Mail and Four Corners helped expose Queensland police corruption in the 1980s.”

    The Courier Mail has rarely been described as active and independent.
     

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  2. Peter I must agree.
    A rather disappointing post by Andrew wrt an interesting topic. Although patently inadequate in terms of data, the post lacked any semblance of nuanced understanding of political processes or even political history.
    Until this post I thought Andrew’s posts were always ‘must read’!
    Perhaps ‘stick to the knitting’ in future would be useful advice.

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  3. Andrew is quite right. Queensland is grossly corrupt. I’ve personally witnessed just how bad it is.

    Queensland government agencies routinely, unlawfully refuse to investigate public officials.

    The CMC doesn’t investigate corruption. It performs lengthy cover-ups.

    The Parliamentary committee who should oversee the CMC routinely refuses to investigate them, hiding behind the need for the CMC’s independence. Even in the face of evidence that the CMC has lied in official reports.

    Lawyers who blatantly screw over clients to the government’s benefit – they get appointed as judges.

    That’s corruption. That’s Queensland.

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